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Thursday, March 31, 2016

Negotiations to leave the EU could take a decade says former civil servant

The Independent reports that those who thought a vote to leave the EU in a few months time will lead to instant liberation, are deluding themselves. In fact our economy is so closely integrated with Europe that not only will leaving cause short term devastation, but the process of negotiating an exit will be protracted.

Quite how long those negotiations will be has been the subject of comments by former Cabinet Secretary, Gus O’Donnell. The former head of the civil service believes that negotiations for Britain to leave the European Union could last a whole decade.

He argued that it would be “highly unlikely” that a withdrawal would follow the timetable set out in EU rules:

“I'm in that camp that doesn't think we can do it in two years,” the former cabinet secretary told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.

“We have to negotiate our entry to the single market, we have to negotiate our future relationship with the EU and then we have to negotiate our trade treaties with all other countries. So there's a lot to be done."

Asked how long it could take for the UK to put together such a deal, Lord O'Donnell cited a Cabinet Office document which warns of “a decade or more of uncertainty”.

Such a timescale would likely see at least two general elections pass during negotiations – and possibly a change of government, where elected parties might take different views on whether to leave the bloc.

The former cabinet secretary also argued that the French and German governments would be incentivised to make EU exit look more difficult because they were both facing anti-EU parties at their respective general elections.

The most telling comment for me was about the withdrawal of Greenland from the EU, so far the only country to take that route. They voted in 1985 to leave the then-equivalent of the EU, the EEC:

“Greenland has a slightly smaller population than Croydon and it has one issue, and that’s fish,” O’Donnell said. “So with one issue … it took them not two years, but three. We have multiple issues. The idea that we can do it all in two years I think is highly unlikely.”

Clearly, a leave vote in June will be far more damaging to our economy than any of us had imagined.
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